PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Prospect Preview: Ben Simmons

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Ben Simmons entered college basketball last season as the nation’s most hyped prospect.

They mentioned him in the same breath as LeBron. He was a stalwart on national television, and every major publication had some sort of feature on the freshman before he ever played a second collegiately.

And it was all downhill from there. The Aussie point forward saw his team stumble through the early part of the season and struggle in league play before collapsing down the stretch. His numbers were insane. His team turned down a bid to the NIT.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Simmons is, quite clearly, not the generational talent so many wanted him to be entering college. But he is a gifted athlete with a unique skill-set that, in theory, has a very bright future in front of him.

But just how bright?

Height: 6′ 10″
Weight: 229
Wingspan: 6′ 11″
2015-16 Stats: 19.2 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 4.8 apg

STRENGTHS: Simmons is the easiest player to scout in this year’s draft class because it’s just so obvious what he does well while his weaknesses are even more glaring.

Let’s start with the physical tools. Simmons is 6-foot-10. He’s quick. He’s agile. He’s fluid. He can move laterally. He runs the floor like a deer. He’s got some bounce to him. He checks in somewhere around 230-240 pounds. (He didn’t get his physical profile measured at the combine.) He moves like a player six inches shorter than him and he’s built like typical power forward. When combined with ball-handling, his elite-of-the-elite vision and ability throw no-look bullet passes all over the court, he becomes him a constant highlight reel. Simmons is better than anyone that I can remember watching at the college level at grabbing a defensive rebound and leading the break, and his phenomenal ability to clean the glass (he averaged 8.8 defensive boards) is a major reason that more than a quarter of his offense came in transition, according to Synergy’s logs.

Let’s go back to his passing for a minute: He’s ridiculous. His ability to see plays develop and find a way to get the ball to whoever is open is just not something you see out of someone his size. He passes out of double-teams in the post, he can pass on the move and he can lead the break.

Simmons is not all that long — his wingspan has been measured at under 7-feet multiple times — but he has an uncanny ability to anticipate where a rebound is going. Players don’t average 11.9 boards by accident, and if there is anything that we’ve learned over the years, it’s that the ability to rebound translates between levels of basketball.

If Simmons isn’t scoring in transition, there are some limits to what his effectiveness will be at the next level given his issues shooting the ball (more on that in a bit). But there are some things he does very well. He can get to the rim off the bounce and he has the body control to split defenders and create space to get a shot off in the lane. He’s not great at finishing through contact but he’s exceptional at drawing fouls, getting to the line nine times per game last season.

Simmons seems to prefer being isolated on the perimeter or put into ball-screen actions, but he can also score from the low- and mid-post. He shoots left-handed but when finishing from six-feet and in he generally uses his right hand, including a jump-hook that was pretty effective. His quickness also creates problems for slower defenders, as he has an effective jab-step that’s set-up by his quick spins and rip-throughs.

If you just watched a highlight reel from Simmons’ freshman year — like the one you see here — you’ll probably convince yourself he is the next NBA superstar. But there’s so much more to the story here.


Simmons made just one three his freshman season. He attempted just three. He was 14-for-45 on jumpers, per Synergy. He shot 67.0 percent from the free throw line. That isn’t terrible, but his jump is ugly enough that there are scouts out there that believe he should follow in the footsteps of Tristan Thompson and switch which hand he shoots with; he’s currently a lefty, although he’s always coming back to his right hand around the rim.

Obviously this is a problem in today’s NBA, which is entirely built around the concept of spacing. It was a problem for him in college as well, as one of the strategies that opposing teams employed come SEC play was to play five or six feet off of him and offer a ton of help. LSU had their own issues with spacing offensively even before Simmons was dared to shoot.

The biggest issue that this caused was that Simmons, when he wasn’t being guarded, became passive. It affected his entire game, and therein lies the biggest concern that NBA teams have about him: He’s terrific when he’s motivated, but what is it going to take to keep him motivated for an 82-game season?

By the end of the year, Simmons had essentially quit playing defense. That isn’t putting it too harshly, either. Anyone could watch an LSU game and see that he simply did not care about that end of the floor. Perhaps the most frustrating part is that wingspan is really the only thing that limits Simmons’ potential as a defender. He really should be a guy that can guard wings and guard fours. He should be able to switch onto point guards and handle small-ball fives. He’s that kind of athlete. He doesn’t want to be that kind of defender.

I don’t like comparing Simmons to LeBron, but the one place that I think it is fair is when you look at the performance LeBron put on in the 2015 NBA Finals. His Cavs were totally overmatched and going up against what may be the greatest team in the history of the NBA, and LeBron damn-near averaged a triple-double and had Cleveland up 2-1 in the series. They eventually lost, but that had as much to do with LeBron’s body being unable to handle the ridiculous workload as it did anything else.

Simmons was in a similar situation with LSU this season, and he opted to pout the one time that his head coach tried to punish him — he was benched for the first five minutes of a game against SEC bottom-feeder Tennessee that LSU lost by 16, and Simmons’ effort was an embarrassment. At the time, the Tigers were just a week removed from a win that many believed had pushed them onto the right side of the bubble. That was a crippling loss to their season, and a moment that made a big impression on a number of people the same way their joke of a performance in a 71-38 loss in the first round of the SEC tournament did.

Just how competitive is this kid if he’s willing to give up on his team like that? Does he want to be an NBA champion or does he simply want to live the life that comes with being an NBA player?

Simmons has other question marks. His turnover numbers are too high because he tries for the highlight instead of the smart play. His length gives him some issues finishing at the rim against NBA size. He struggles to create in the half court when he doesn’t have a chance to get a head of steam. People refer to him as ambidextrous, which isn’t exactly true. He shoots jumpers lefty and he shoots everything in and around the rim right-handed. He has no off-hand around the basket, and he struggles to finish around the rim, period. As impressive as his body control is, he tends to play out of control, particularly when attacking the basket.

But all things considered, it’s his shooting and his desire to be great vs. being famous that matter far more than anything else.

NBA COMPARISON: The comparison that everyone seems to make with Simmons is LeBron James, and on the surface, it’s not terrible. These days, as a 31-year old and a 13-year NBA veteran, LeBron essentially plays the four on both ends of the floor, which is what Simmons looks like he’ll end up being in the NBA. That wasn’t the case five years ago, however, just like LeBron isn’t near the defender that he was five years ago. That helps with this comparison. They’re both big, they’re both versatile, they’re both sensational passers with question marks surrounding their jumper. I get it.

The problem, however, is that it’s just so unfair to compare anyone, let alone a potential No. 1 pick, to a man that many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all-time. Think about it like this: LeBron has won two NBA titles, he’s been to the finals seven times (including six straight season) and he’s been the MVP four times, yet there are people — not just Skip Bayless — who have decided that the hill they’re going to die on is that ‘LeBron James is overrated.’ So how will people react when the kid that was hyped as LeBen, the Next LeBron, turns out to be a poor man’s version of James?

The comparison that I’ve always made is to Lamar Odom, but even that’s not perfect. Simmons is more athletic and a much better passer while Odom was a better shooter and a bit taller, although Odom’s impact and career trajectory is what I expect Simmons to produce.

OUTLOOK: Simmons has the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft. If his jumper comes around, if he decides that he wants to be a really good defender in this league, if he ever figures out how to take over a game and a team, he’s got a shot at being one of the 10 or 15 best players in the NBA.

The question that Philadelphia — and the Lakers, or anyone else considering trading up for the No. 1 pick — has to ask is whether or not Simmons will ever reach that potential.

There’s no guarantee that he ever wants to be a defender. Players that quit on their team, like Simmons did far too often his freshman season, don’t usually get that coached out of that. And it’s worth asking whether or not he actually wants to be a great player and a winner as opposed to just a star athlete. For that to happen, he’s going to need to spend hours and hours and hours in a gym, perfecting that shooting stroke. It can be done — see Leonard, Kawhi, or Hield, Buddy — but it requires a player with a work ethic that borders on psychotic.

I think it’s more likely that Simmons’ ceiling is as a complimentary piece on a title contender, which is why I like the Odom comparison so much. Odom averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 boards and 3.7 assists for his career, but those stats are skewed but a couple of bad years at the end of his career. For a four-year stretch with the Lakers, Odom averaged 15 points, 10 boards and 4.5 assists was the No. 2 or 3 option on a team that won two NBA titles and reached a third Finals.

All in all, that’s not bad.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White


You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any one of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments in this series.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?


Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.